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The landing at Grigor’evka – September, 1941

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Written by n/a
Created Sunday, 25 September 2005 19:03
Last Updated on Friday, 25 September 2009 11:08

By late summer of 1941, the Soviet forces holding the southern end of the Russo-German front near Odessa were in very dire straights. Despite suffering enormous casualties, the German and Rumanian forces succeeded in forcing back Soviet formations and penetrating to within 10–12 kilometers of Odessa itself. This allowed German field artillery to begin shelling Odessa’s extensive port facilities as well as the entrance channel only 4–5 miles from the shoreline. The systematic bombardments by long-ranged enemy batteries deployed near the villages of Chebanka and Gil’dendorf seriously disrupted the port loading operations and threatened to end the flow of supplies into the besieged city. The only way out of the situation was to mount a counter-offensive, an important role in which would be played by an amphibious landing at Grigor’evka.

The plan of the operation called on the Soviet 421st and 157th Rifle Divisions to attack the enemy forces deployed northeast of the city from the line of Fontanka-Il’ichjovka-Kyjal’nitskij liman (lake) while the Navy conducted an amphibious landing operations behind the Axis lines near the village of Grigor’evka. The main objective of the simultaneous thrusts was to throw back the 13th and 15th Rumanian Infantry Divisions holding this sector of the front by 15–20 kilometers, taking them out of artillery range of Odessa and preventing any further supply disruptions.

To conduct the amphibious landing, the Black Sea Fleet headquarters selected the 3rd Naval Infantry Regiment commanded by Captain K. Koren’, which had just been formed in Sevastopol’. The regiment was comprised of 3 naval infantry battalions as well as a single mortar battery (9 82-mm obr 1938 medium mortars), totaling 1,900 men – predominantly fleet reservists and volunteers from ship crews and base personnel. The landing itself was to be facilitated by a parachute landing of a 23-man unit near Hill 57.3 roughly 10 kilometers inland — the parachutists were to disrupt enemy communications and create a panic, hopefully drawing the Axis forces’ attention away from the shoreline.

The landing was also to be supported by a number of Black Sea Fleet vessels, although none of them were particularly suitable for landing operations. Tactical fire support would be provided by cruisers ‛Krasnyj Krym“ (‛Red Crimea“) and ‛Krasnyj Kavkaz“ (‛Red Caucasus“), as well as destroyers ‛Bojkij“ (‛Perky“), ‛Bezuprechnyj“ (‛Flawless“) and ‛Frunze“ based in Sevastopol’. Together, these ships carried over 40 guns ranging in caliber from 76mm to 180mm. The landing itself would be conducted using the gunboat ‛Krasnaja Gruzija“ (‛Red Georgia“, formerly an El’pidifor-class mine trawler), 24 MO- and KM-class motorboats and 10 motorized barges requisitioned from the Odessa naval base. Air support for the landing and subsequent ground operations would be provided by a specially formed air-group drawn from the 63rd Bomber Brigade and 69th Fighter Regiment.

The landing was to be made on the night of September 21–22. Prior to the operation, the 3rd Naval Infantry Regiment and the Black Sea Fleet units involved conducted intensive training exercises at the naval base in Sevastopol’. These resulted in key revisions to the disembarkation plans as well as requisitioning of additional equipment such as special ramps, food and ammunition containers and extra landing craft. Simultaneously with the 3rd Regiment’s preparations, the special-purpose 23-man parachutist detachment, drawn mostly from Naval Aviation volunteers, was formed and underwent accelerated preparations at Sevastopol’. For the impending mission each parachutist was issued a submachine gun with 2–3 spare magazines, several hand grenades and a combat knife. The operation’s planners had assumed that all members of the unit have already received the necessary instruction in parachute jumps, although this wasn’t really the case, and as such the unit’s preparations were focused on battlefield tactics, weapons training and hand-to-hand combat. The parachutists were not told their true mission, and had assumed that they were to conduct partisan warfare deep in the enemy rear.

The man responsible for the operation was Kontr-Admiral (Rear Admiral) S. Gorshkov. The landing was scheduled to begin at precisely 0100 hours on September 22, and was to be completed by 0300 hours. The Black Sea Fleet headquarters, seeking to minimize the chance of an enemy air attack against its most valuable ships, the cruisers ‛Krasnyj Krym“ and ‛Krasnyj Kavkaz“, ordered their captains, A. Zubkov and A. Gushhin, to head back to Sevastopol’ immediately after conducting preliminary bombardment of the landing area. The cruisers were to take advantage of the darkness to put as much distance between themselves and enemy bases, while all further fire support for the landing would fall on the shoulders of the destroyer group commanded by Captain 1st Rank Porembskij.

Loading of the troops began at 0700 on September 21 in Kazach’ya Bay and continued for nearly six hours under cover of land- and ship-based anti-aircraft batteries as well as overhead fighter patrols. Due to the heterogeneity of the landing force and the desire to most rationally utilize the available cargo areas, the 3rd Regiment’s battalions were broken up during the loading operation. In the space of 35 minutes 9 barges loaded 996 men, 9 mortars as well as food and ammunition on the cruiser ‛Krasnyj Kavkaz“. The loading of the cruiser ‛Krasnyj Krym“ took somewhat longer – one hour thirteen minutes, during which time 721 infantrymen were put onboard. The destroyers ‛Bojkij“ and ‛Bezuprechnyj“ each took on roughly a company – 105 and 107 men, respectively, and the total landing force comprised 1,929 men.

At 1330 hours, the ships of the task force weighed anchor and began to emerge from behind the mine barrier around Sevastopol’. Air cover was provided by two pairs of I-16 fighters as well as MBR-2 seaplanes. Once in open water, the ships formed a sinfle column – ‛Bojij“, then ‛Krasnyj Kavkaz“ under the flag of Rear Admiral Gorshkov, then ‛Krasnyj Krym“ and finally ‛Bezuprechnyj“ – and headed towards Odessa.

After arriving near Grigor’evka, the ships took positions 15–20 cable lengths from the shoreline and began an intensive three-hour artillery bombardment at 0121 hours. In all, the bombardment used 3,220 artillery shells, nearly 20% of which were fired in the first 10 minutes. The bombardment was conducted over pre-assigned areas, with numerous flare shells allowing the ships to easily range in.

At 0130 hours the first wave of the assault – a single company commanded by Mladshij Leitenant (2nd Lieutenant) Chorupa – set out for shore. The men reached it after 20–30 minutes, setting up signal fires to guide the rest of the attacking force. The overloaded landing craft were often unable to come closer than 100–150 meters of the shoreline, which imposed a delay on the landing operation.

As the naval infantrymen approached the beach, the supporting fire was shifted further inland, aiming to prevent the enemy from bringing up reserves. Timely and accurate directions transmitted via radio to the ships’ gunners by shore-bound observers allowed the guns to quickly range in on their targets.

Using seven motorized barges, the cruiser ‛Krasnyj Kavkaz“ unloaded its assault force in the space of two hours, after which the craft began ferrying ammunition and supplies to the shore. Simultaneously the destroyers and ‛Kraznyj Krym“ conducted their own landings, and in the final stages were assisted by the late-arriving ‛Krasnaja Gruzia“ its accompanying motorboats. The entire landing operation was concluded at 0500 hours on the morning of September 22.

Earlier in the night, at 0130 hours, the 23-man special-purpose parachute detachment commanded by Starshina (Petty Officer) A. Kuznetsov, was dropped from a TB-3 bomber near Hill 57.3. Strong winds, limited visibility and apparent deficiencies in parachute training resulted in only a fraction of the force reaching the assembly area. As a result, several parachutists were forced to act alone, which resulted in unjustifiable losses: over 10 men out of the 23 were killed or went missing in action. Nevertheless, over several hours the parachutists managed to destroy 5 telephone lines as well as a Rumanian regimental headquarters, accounting for over 30 enemy soldiers and officers. By dawn of September 22, the unit joined with the troops of the attacking 3rd Regiment.

After a successful landing, the 3rd Naval Infantry Regiment began a rapid 2-echelon attack. The main thrust was conducted by the 1st and 3rd Battalions, advancing towards the villages of Chebanka and Staraja Dofinovka, respectively. One of their tasks was to prevent the Rumanians from crossing the Adzhalykskij liman to the west of the landing site. The regiment’s remaining battalion constituted the 2nd echelon reserve.

With the support provided by the guns of destroyers ‛Bojkij“, ‛Bezuprechnyj“ and the newly arrived ‛Besposhhadnyj“ (‛Merciless“), as well as tactical and ground attack aviation, the 3rd Regiment broke through enemy defenses and by 1800 hours on September 22 reached the line of Chebanka-Hill 57.3-Old and New Dofinovka. At approximately 0600 hours on September 23, units of the 3rd regiment linked up with the advance troops of the 421st Rifle Division near the Voroshilov state farm. The naval infantrymen succeeded in all their mission objectives, destroying up to 200 Rumanian soldiers and officers, destroying the local headquarters and capturing a long-ranged artillery battery shelling Odessa. The regiment’s losses comprised 29 killed and 407 wounded.

As planned, the assault against Rumanian lines by the forces of the Odessa Defense District began considerably later than the 3rd Regiment’s attack. The 421st and 157th Rifle Divisions moved out at 0800 hours on September 22 after an intensive artillery bombardment, and quickly broke through enemy defenses towards the township of Sverdlovo. The German-Rumanian forces, having suffered significant casualties, began a hurried retreat to the north. However, by the end of September 22 the Rumanian troops managed to halt the Red Army advance, much due to a dramatic rise in enemy air activity.

At 1300 hours on September 22 the destroyer ‛Bezuprechnyj“ was attacked by 9 Ju-87 dive bombers, which dropped over 30 bombs on the ship. By skillful maneuvering, the destroyer avoided any direct hits, however the force of several explosions seriously damaged the ship, temporarily immobilizing it. The destroyer ‛Besposhhadnyj“ was also seriously damaged, with one bomb destroying and flooding a section of the ship. The destroyer managed to limp back to Odessa, and subsequently towed to Sevastopol.

The weakening artillery support as well as growing enemy resistance forced the Odessa Defense District Command to halt the offensive. However, the operation was judged a success. Assisted by the landing of the 3rd Naval Infantry Regiment, the forces of the Odessa Defense District crushed the 13th and 15th Rumanian Infantry Divisions, capturing 19 field artillery pieces, approximately 40 mortars, over 1,200 rifles and submachine guns and other equipment. More importantly, the enemy was deprived of an important bridgehead that had allowed him to bring the Odessa port under heavy shelling.

During the operation, the city’s defenders acted courageously and decisively, demonstrating considerable initiative. The offensive was the first operation of the war involving close cooperation between land and amphibious attacks as well as tactical aviation and ship-based artillery. The invaluable experience gained as a result of Grigor’evka was applied many times later in the war in conducting amphibious landings.

Translated by: Gene Ostrovsky
Source: «Voennie Znaniya» No.9, 1996

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